It's a quiet start to the New Year in Asia this Friday, with major markets like Japan and China closed for holidays. Trading volumes are very thin with many investors still away on vacation.
The U.S. dollar started the new year on a subdued note as tentative signs of an easing in risk aversion benefited higher-yielding currencies like the Australian and New Zealand dollars. The dollar was steady against the yen , having been stuck in a 90 to 91 range for more than a week as the market waited to see if the Japanese authorities might intervene to restrain their currency. Crude futures fell below $43 a barrel in the Asian session on faltering demand.
Australian stocks closed 0.2 percent lower in light turnover, starting 2009 mildly softer as three of the nation's four biggest banks recoiled and retailer Woolworths also declined. National Australia Bank slipped 2.25 percent, Westpac Banking dropped 1.2 percent and ANZ Banking Group edged 0.7 percent lower.
South Korea's KOSPI finished nearly 3 percent higher on its first trading day of 2009, with carmakers rising after reporting monthly sales for December while shipbuilders gained on hopes of large ship orders.
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Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index climbed 4.5 percent with Chinese telecom service providers and equipment makers surging after China's state council approved the issuance of long-awaited licences for next generation (3G) mobile networks, opening the door to some $41 billion in spending for equipment. Shares in the world's largest wireless carrier China Mobile gained 2.7 percent while smaller rival China Unicom rose 6.3 percent. China Telecom, the newest entrant to China's wireless telecommunication industry, rallied 6.2 percent.
Singapore's Straits Times Index extended gains, closing up nearly 4 percent, led by blue-chips such as Singapore Telecommunications as investors drew comfort from gains on Wall
Street. The market rallied despite the release of grim government data which showed the city-state's economy suffered from its third straight contraction in October-December period.